Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Big Fat Hairy Middle of the Manuscript Doldrums


I. Am. Fail.

Remember back to my optimistically sunny 60-Day goals?  I'd have revisions to the existing part of the WIP completed by 9/15 and planned to have the remaining 40K-ish words finished by the third week of October?

Yeah, not so much.

First, my job, like, demanded that I do it with multiple sets of, frankly, soul-sucking student papers.  Okay, perhaps that's a little dramatic but then this is what a funk does to you!  Second, this short story idea just wouldn't leave me alone, and in 6 days I wrote a pretty kick-ass erotic romance, complete at 15,300 words.  Which is great, and I really enjoyed it, but, you know, it got done at the expense of what I'm supposed to be doing.

And now, tomorrow, another set of papers comes in from my students, ensuring no additional work for at least a couple more days.

Just needed an outlet.  Thanks for commiserating with me.  Okay, bucking up, here.

Thanks for reading,

Monday, September 27, 2010

Meet an Author Monday and 5 Random Facts About Me!

Greetings fellow travelers:

So, it's Monday, so I'm hopping.  Please drop in on some of my friends on the blog hop, with a big shout out to California Cheer Mom who organizes us each week!  Leave a comment, say hi, follow along in the fun!

Since you dropped in to visit me, I'll share a few random facts about me, because, I just know, you're dying to get the dirt ;)!

This week's random facts theme:  my favorites!

1) Favorite Food:  how can anyone narrow this down?  I'd have to say Italian, if I was picking a kind of food.  Apple pie ala mode if I was picking a dessert.  Snickers if I was picking a candy bar.  Potato chips (Utz!) if I was picking a snack food.  McDonalds if I was picking a fast food restaurant.  See?  Who can pick???
2) Favorite Color:  this one's easy.  I've been a blue girl for as long as I can remember.  Maybe it's my eyes...
3) Favorite Foreign City:  London.  Man, I could so live there.  I envy my UK friends :)
4) Favorite Music:  also a toughy.  But Kings of Leon has spoken to my heart for the past year or so.  Also, and I realize this is schizophrenic, but Linkin Park, the Avett Brothers, Jon McLaughlin, John Mayer, and James Blunt really do it for me.  I'm gonna stop thinking about this one, though, or I'm sure to keep adding to it!
5) Favorite Job I've Ever Had:  archaeologist.  I mean, of course, that's before I embarked on this novelist adventure.  Given a chance, I've no doubt that would take the lead here.  But, in terms of jobs I've had in the past, working outside, where every day's excavations brought something new, at cool places and often with cool/quirky people.  Yeah, that was a great job to experience.

What are some of your favorites in these categories?

Thanks for reading,

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Flash Fiction Challenge

Howdy-ho!  So, as part of the FF&P 60 Days to Success challenge, I'm participating in a few workshops, one of which is called "Writing Short to Master the Story Arc."  Our instructor challenged us to make a go at writing flash fiction, which I've always been curious about but never tried.  The prompt was to write a story in less than 250 words using the word "spider"--here's what I came up with:
The Weaver of Fate, 246 words

Jace tore the bandage off his shoulder and looked into the mirror. The spider stared right back.

The tribal tattoo covered the top left quarter of his warm brown back and had spilled his blood and marked his body. He hoped the gesture would appease the eight-legged weaver of fate. Because, clearly, he’d done something to piss her off.

Jace splashed cool water on his face. He wore his grief and exhaustion like a mantle. His brother’s suicide. His cousin’s murder. His grandmother’s soon-to-be-fatal diabetes. When was it going to be enough?

He shrugged his shirt on over the seeping ink and freed his iron-straight black hair from its ponytail. Just as the spider could break the web of connectedness between people, she could create it. He would just have to have faith.

“Can you do a spider?” came a muffled female voice.

Jace flew out of the bathroom and into the lobby of the tattoo parlor. She glanced over her shoulder when the door clicked behind him. Their eyes met. Flashed. Caressed. Connected.

“Why a spider?” Jace asked in a strained voice.

Her brow furrowed, then she grinned. “Because the spider is the weaver of all things. Her web connects us to something bigger.”

He nodded as his heart knit together in the presence of its soul mate. The relief was so enormous it nearly brought him to his knees. His sacrifices were finally enough. At long last, the weaver of fate smiled on him.

It was actually a lot of fun, and very interesting to try to tell a story in less than 250 words.  It forces you to focus on THE story, THE main conflict.  Give flash fiction a try, and let me know what you think!

Thanks for reading,

PS--naelany threw down a challenge, and I just couldn't pass it up!  Her terms:  100 words exactly (gulp!) and use the word "petal."  How'd I do?:

The cherry tree’s pink petals danced like snowflakes to the ground.  They provided her solace, life in a field of death.

The woman knelt.  Brushed blossoms off block letters.  You should be able to see the name, she thought.  She pulled the dead stems out of the cup.  Slid the new bouquet in.  Fluffed it.  Hoped it mattered.

But how could it?

How could flowers, even the ones from the flowering tree that had made her choose this plot for her mother, ever be enough to say, I love you, I miss you, My heart breaks that you’re not here?

(100 words)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Meet an Author Monday! And Speak!

Hi friends,

It's Monday, so that means it's time to blog hop around to meet some new authors.  Drop a line to say hi wherever you visit!

So, on my mind today -- as it's on many people's minds -- is the ludicrous and ill-informed commentary by Missouri State University professor Wesley Scroggins on Laurie Halse Anderson's book, Speak.  Because the book has a non-explicit rape scene, he has publicly deemed it "soft pornography" and advocated it be banned.  Laurie's reaction was spot on, and if you feel so inclined, her cause is a worthy one and could use your support.

As if book banning wasn't bad enough, what really gets me is this douchenozzle's conflation of rape and sex.  Sex is pornographic because it arouses and titillates.  Rape is assault; assault is not arousing.  In a rape, sex is only the tool by which the attacker abuses his victim.  That this guy apparently believes rape is sexy and arousing is, truly, utterly disturbing.  Today's date has personal significance for me on this subject, which, as Forrest Gump said, "That's all I have to say about that."  So I just couldn't let this outrage pass without comment.

People who have experienced rape need help and consolation wherever they can find it, and everything I've read about this book says survivors do find it a source of solace.  That he could consider taking that away saddens me.  Professor Scroggins, you ought to be ashamed of yourself.

Thanks for reading,

Sunday, September 19, 2010

My First Foursome!

Is it my imagination, or did a stampede of people come running to my blog at that title???  ;-)

Well I did have my first foursome, in a way (you pervs, like I was going to blog about my personal sexploits!  For shame!).  This week, I completed a 15,000-word short erotic romance entitled Just Gotta Say.  The story features long-time best friends and roommates Callie Davis, Noah Ryder, Jack Fenton, and Lucas Branson.  I am totally in love with these four and feel really good that the heart level is as high as the heat level in this little story.  This was my first sex scene featuring multiples, and I have to say the most interesting part of it from a craft point of view was simply managing the choreography of four people being together.  There are just a lot of tab As and Slot Bs lol!

Now, the big question is:  where to submit these bad boys, and girl?  I solicited opinions on the best erotic romance epublishers on some of the listservs I belong to.  And I seem with the help of a lot of generous writing friends to have narrowed it down to three possibilites:  1) Harlequin Spice Briefs, 2) Samhain, 3) Ellora's Cave.

Harlequin appeals to me because I'd very much like to become a Harlequin author.  I've got a Nocturne Bite (a paranormal short) under consideration right now, so I am actively pursuing that as a goal.  I don't know much about their sales history with erotic romance though, particularly with the Briefs, which is a new-ish endeavor (began 2005 or 2006, I think).  Samhain appeals to me because, according to some data an erotic romance blog has compiled, Samhain erotic romance authors have the most sales and make the most money over the course of 1-2 years compared to about 8 other publishers.  Finally, fans and authors of Ellora's Cave are diehard loyal, and Ellora's Cave has a great reputation as an erotic romance publisher, plus ranks right behind Samhain in sales/income.
In the end, I think they're all great choices, but that isn't keeping me from stressing over which is the best one to make.  Anyone have personal experience, thoughts, recommendations they'd like to make?

Thanks for reading,

Saturday, September 11, 2010

My Little Writing Nook

How important do you think it is to have dedicated space in which to do your writing?  I wrote most of my first novel in our home office at our shared desk top computer.  I've written almost everything since on my laptop, sitting on the living room couch.  Now that I'm back to juggling a full-time job with some ambitious writing goals, I've decided to carve out some space that'll hopefully allow me to focus and up my productivity.  We shall see!!

Author friends--where do you do your best writing?  Do you have a dedicated space in your house?  Or do you just get comfy on your couch?  What helps you be the most productive?

Thanks for reading,

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Book Trailer How-Tos and Resources

I had the recent benefit of taking an online course offered through the RWA PRO section and taught by wonderful author Jeannie Lin.  Her trailer for her upcoming release Butterfly Swords is truly a model.  And, while I'm sitting on the trailer I made so I can use it as a major promo opportunity for my upcoming release of Forever Freed, I am so proud of how it turned out that I'm already on to making my second, for my also soon-to-be-released novella, Hearts in Darkness, as well as beginning to work on a more general one marketing my writing/"brand."  This medium really resonated with me and made my story come to life in a way I hadn't imagined.  And I'm excited to share what I learned with you.

First, Some Book Trailer "How-tos":
1) You shouldn't try to tell the whole story, mention all the intricacies of the plot, include all the characters or subplots or even all the major issues related to your main characters and their relationship.  If you watched Jeannie Lin's trailer above, it includes just 19 (yes, that's NINETEEN) words related to the plot of her story.  And it works in spades--because, don't forget, the music and the images are helping you tell the story.  My trailer includes 44 plot-related words, not include a 12-word log line at the end.  But no single slide has more than 6 words, and most have 2-3!  And figuring out how to evoke the feel and draw people in in just a few words is challenging.  But my feeling, and I'm just one person of course, is that the fewer words and the shorter the trailer (2 minutes should be the absolutely max, in the 90-second neighborhood is preferable), the more effective / interesting / compelling.
2) You don't have to pay a lot to find the images/music for your trailer.  See my resource list, below, but there are plenty of stock image / stock music / stock video sites out there and while you get more choice with the paid images, they all offer free ones as well.  Be prepared: finding the files you need for your trailer is likely to be the biggest time sink of the whole project, because you simply have to go through page after page after page.  And, some of the sites purposely make the free images less convenient by not allowing them to be searchable by keywords, so you do just have to scroll through everything.  I used a combination of free and paid images--16 images in all, and paid a total of $13.00 for my whole trailer.  Compare that to the minimum $75 to average $200 to upwards of $1,000 you can pay for professional trailer-making services.
  • Hint: As you spend your time scrolling through these free images, also save images unrelated to your current trailer project but that you could potentially imagine being relevant for one of your other stories--that'll help streamline your future trailer image research.  Most of these sites give you what's called a "lightbox" that stores the images you like before you download and/or buy them.  But, beware, some images have an expiration date and will disappear after a period--so don't assume you can let things sit in your lightbox indefinitely and they'll still be there when you need them.
  • Hint: If your cover designer used models as part of your cover image, ask where they got their stock images.  If you can find other images of your model, it will give the trailer a more professional look because it'll give you the benefit of a professionally produced trailer: getting to have the same people's faces doing what you want them to do throughout.  Most stock images include an "Other Images Using This Model" link, and you might be able to find other images of your model you can use outside of the cover image.  I did this, and ended up with quite a few other images of Lucien in my trailer (on the left is my cover image--"Sinister Man" Lucien; then next two I used in the trailer; then the next two I bought, because I wasn't sure if I'd need them and because, well, look at them--I didn't end up using them though):

3) You don't have to pay a lot to make the trailer.  Both PCs and MACs come preloaded with movie-making software.  On the PC, which is what I have, the program is called Windows Movie Maker (WMM).  Open the program and click on View-->Timeline, and that will create a page layout with three lines at the bottom where all the creating is done: Video / Audio/Music / Title Overlay.  Once you import the files you want to work into your trailer into your project (image files, video files, and music files, you simply drag these files into the appropriate line at the bottom.
  • Hint: start with the music.  The music is KEY.  You must find royalty-free music that 1) evokes the feel of your story, 2) builds in intensity/tension, and 3) preferably has noticeable stanzas that will mark off good places for your images/titles to change in coordination with.  Don't worry about the length of the music you find--WMM allows you to both CLIP off the music AND make it fade out so that the ending isn't abrupt.  Similarly, if you find a 5-minute song and you want to start at minute mark 2:30, it allows you to do that too.
  • Once the music is in the Audio/Music line, the line very helpfully shows you a physical representation of where the music gets louder/softer, which helps you coordinate when your images/titles should change.  And you can use the zoom in button to make this even easier.
  • Next step:  Starting at the beginning of the trailer, drag the images you want into the Video line.  Don't worry about the text/titles just yet.  Get the images in the order you want them and spend time coordinating their changes to the music.  It takes a little playing around to figure out how to make this work and look best.  For example, if you just set the images next to each other, they change abruptly like a PowerPoint slide presentation.  However, you can overlap the images by dragging the view time of the one before out and the start time of the next one back a little, and that makes the images seem to fade into each other.  Improve this special effect even further by clicking on the image and then selecting Effect--the Ease In / Ease Out effects (the only ones I used--use the PowerPointy effects sparingly) not only make transitions between images a little softer, but also zoom in or out on the image to give it a moving picture quality.  If you watch Jeannie's trailer again, you'll see she uses this throughout.
  • Hint: One of the hardest things to nail are the transitions between images, particularly if you try to time them to changes in the music, which you should.  It takes some playing and you'll find yourself tinkering with the precise beginning time of an image ten times before you get it right.  So the detail work in the trailer is another point of time sink, fyi.  Use the zoom in button to help you see precisely where the arrows that show where an image starts and stops should fall on the video timeline.
  • Next step: Once you have the images and any videos, if you have them (I didn't use any, but Jeannnie did--the sword coming out of the hilt, the butterfly, etc.), then it's time to add text titles.  Start with an introductory slide of some sort that announces your name and the title--could be your book cover or something that sets the scene--I used an image of Detroit, where my story is set.  You can place text titles ON an image or BEFORE an image.  Frankly, I prefer ON an image because otherwise you're making the viewer stare at an otherwise blank slide with a few words.  And, if you follow my advice and only have a few words, that's simply wasted time in the video.  Getting the exact placement on the image and font size takes a little finessing, but it gives you all the options you'd expect in terms of font, size, justification, bold/italics/underline.  The titles appear in the bottom-most line after you "Add" them, and they can be moved back and forth just like the images so that they don't appear too abruptly; they can overlap just like the images, and it'll take a little finessing to time the appearance of the words with the appearance of the images.  Remember, again, though, less is more.
  • When you're all done, you hit Publish Movie-->It defaults to "This Computer," which is what you want-->then the next screen wants you to name the movie--if you're planning to post publicly, I'd suggest FirstLastname_BookTitle-->then the next screen defaults to "Best Quality," again what you want.  Then Publish!  It takes a few minutes to save.
  • So, total time sink breakdown on my first time when I didn't really know what I was doing:  6 hours of image looking / music listening + 6 hours of playing around with WMM and actually making the trailer.  First time out of the box, my trailer took me 12 hours.  Now, I think I could do it in 2-3, maximum.
Next, Some Book Trailer Resources:
Two key phrases to remember:  "free" and "royalty free".  The first one helps keep your expenses down.  The second one ensures that you're not violating anyone's copyright.  It's not kosher to just go to the internet and save a bunch of images that you don't have the rights to, nor can you get away with using your favorite Kings of Leon song in your trailer (I'm sure the Followhill boys are nice and all, but I doubt they're going to approve you using their music to sell your book...).  Instead, you will be downloading image/video/music files that grant you to the license to use the files for commercial purposes.  Pay attention to the licensing details: the regular royalty-free licenses are fine for your trailer purposes, but if you think you want to get t-shirts or coffee mugs or 20,000 flyers made with the images, some of the sites require you to purchase an additional/bigger license.  Mostly, you won't have to worry about that.

These lists should not be understood to include all possibilities out there.  Nor do I have personal familiarity with all of them.  What I can say is this:
  • Generally, expect the finding of the right images/videos/music for your trailer to take a lot of time.
  • Also, expect that, if you do end up having to pay for some part of this, it's probably going to be for 1) video (which is why you should use it sparingly), 2) music, 3) images.  And their expense is also going to go in that order.  You can generally download, by the way, at the lowest resolutions, which often gets you the freebie and/or reduces your costs  .
  • Next, expect to have to register for each of these in order to really get anywhere.  
  • Finally, sometimes you have to root around a bit on the sites to find the "free" stuff.  Once you've played around a bit with some of these, you'll find your favorite go-to sites and probably stick with 'em.

Stock Images:

Stock Videos:

Stock Music: (and sound effects)

If I've missed any obvious resources, please comment and let me know and I'll add to the list.  By all means, please feel free to tweet/facebook/forward/or otherwise share this post, but I would appreciate the shout out if you do.

Stay tuned for the Forever Freed trailer.  And let me know how your movie-making business goes!  I'd be happy to post trailers! ;)

Thanks for reading,

Folks--be sure to read Lex Valentine's comments via the comment link below--she has a great resource for music editing AND some info on using popular music on YouTube via an agreement YouTube has with some recording artists!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Come Celebrate with our Labor Day BBQ! (and get more followers!)

Welcome fellow BBQers!  And thanks to KarenG for organizing this great idea!  Find new friends, get new followers(!), and eat lots of good food--all without gaining any weight!  How can you beat that?

And stop on back by, I'll be talking about making book trailers with a new post later today!

Thanks for stopping by, following, and reading,

Thursday, September 2, 2010

60-Day Goals

So, I joined the "60 Days to Success" event sponsored by the RWA's FF&P (Futuristic, Fantasy & Paranormal) chapter.  It runs September 1 - October 31 and the purpose is to help members make major strides on their works in progress or other writing goals in the next 60 (whoops, 59!) days.

I am in MAJOR need of some collective push like this.  I wrote over 45,000 words between the last week of May and the middle of July.  But since then:  a big fat nada!  Two weeks of traveling in late July, ten days of house guests, and then a week of gearing up for teaching in the new semester, not to mention that those pesky classes have made me return to, you know, actually doing my job again...and I've lost my time and my momentum.  And this is a problem because 1) not writing feels like an itch that needs scratching real bad, 2) I have an editor and two agents waiting to see my current WIP, and 3) I have other things I want to be writing--and this WIP, which has never cooperated the way my other stories have, just needs to get the frick out of the way already, lol.

So, here are my 60-Day goals:
1) by 9/15: revise the completed portion of the WIP (got some feedback at a writing workshop I have to do before continuing with new words)
2) by 10/24: complete the manuscript
3) by 10/31: undertake at least one major revision of manuscript before 60 Days is over

Yes, I'm deeming the giant bolded fire-engine-red lettering necessary for keeping these three In. My. Face.

Accomplishing these will hopefully relate to these longer-term goals:
1) Get an agent with this manuscript
2) Achieve RWA PAN status (Published Author Network--for published authors who have made at least $1,000 from their writing)
3) Do both of these by next year's RWA, beginning June 28, 2011

Even if you're not part of the 60 Day group, what are your goals -- life or writing! -- for the next sixty days?

Thanks for reading!